So for the last post of 2012 I am going to depart from a devotional entry and focus on some personal reflections. 2012 will be a year I will remember for a long time. And not for all its joys. It has been a tough one. I have some years like that from my past: 1981, 1986, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2008. All of them to tough for various reasons.
2012 started rough. My dad was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer at the beginning of 2012. There was a lot of chemo and occasional hope along the way. He fought hard. And he went home to be with The Lord in October. We had some good times and great events this last summer together. But saying goodbye to your dad is not easy, especially when he takes the cancer train to his final destination. It was hardest knowing that I lived far away and could not help him or my mom as much as I wanted to help. But the family holds together fine. We are better to have suffered through this together.
2012 also saw us move Joni's parents back to Kansas City. This was a task that took a lot from us. There were many trips back in forth to Pomme de Terre to help them get ready, and then to help them move. And navigating that change with them and for them has been challenging. But it is good to have them just 20 minutes, rather than 3 hours, away. And it is a joy to serve them even in the challenges.
It was a rough year for my wife, diagnosed with Lyme's disease in late summer. Most people don't know it, but she has been quite sick. Thankfully, it seems the worst of it is over and she is feeling better, but Lyme's is notorious for bringing unexpected bad days without warning. This is something we will continue to manage together.
But what do we do with tough years? For me it is a relief to see the calendar page turn over to 2013. Just that sense of another year before me gives perspective. I am not one to complain about the events I have been given to experience, so I will do my best trusting that God will bring me future perspective on 2012, just like He has now done with those hard years from my past. Tough years show me the loving mercies of a faithful God.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through?
The emptiness of lies
the broken smoldering remains
of what once was nice
beauty gone in the decay
That is the entropy stain
sin brings to a land
and no reasoning human brain
will fully understand
Ruin follows in sin's path
as surely as night to day
there is no escaping holy wrath
when we have gone our own way
That's why a savior came
so long ago to bear our sin
we have redemption in His name
a path of life to enter in
He Who makes all things new again
will change burned landscapes to bright
and with Hime we praise and sing "Amen"
He turns all our darkness into light
Thursday, December 20, 2012
The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?
God recognizes that there is a human wisdom that cannot be truly wise. In the case of Israel and Judah, the "wisdom" of its leaders rejected the word of The Lord. And that wisdom was leading their nation to ruin. Those who were deemed to be "wise men" (particularly the religious leaders) would be the first to be destroyed, to suffer, and to be taken captive. Their disobedient wisdom would not save them. In the end they would prove to be foolish.
This wisdom was ignorant and morally bankrupt. It rejected God. Any philosophy or manner of life that rejects or minimizes God will ultimately suffer the same kind of outcome. It will mislead its adherents. It will disappoint those who follow them. It will prove itself foolishness in the end. But, of course, it will be too late to reverse the trend. When God brought judgment for disobeying the Law, it was fierce and final in its effect. The only hope was to return to true wisdom and respect the real wisdom of the word of The Lord.
These words of warning to ancient Israel ring just as true today. And they call us not to a social revolution or movement of man, but to a personal assessment and commitment. Do I let my soul get persuaded by any non-biblical worldviews? Our society is steeped in materialism, scientific naturalism, intellectualism, eroticism, epicureanism, politicism, and "psychologism". It is going to be a fact of my life that a biblical worldview will require effort to maintain and promote in this environment. Wisdom though is worth that kind of hard work.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'-only to go on doing all these abominations?
The duplicity of Israel was appalling. Jeremiah's message at this point was to point out not only the idolatry that had captured the lives of everyday Israelis, but also the incessant flow of sin that welled up from their false worship. These actions were the fruit of what they worshiped.
Entire families from children on up to parents were involved in idolatrous practices. The children gathered wood, the fathers built the fires, and the mothers baked the bread that was offered to Baal's cohort Ashtoreth. This is a whole other meaning to the term "family worship". If this is what the family looked like, no wonder the society was broken.
So one of the key points of Jeremiah's message is that it matters what you worship. From worship stems all your other life choices. We act out of what our heart worships and we were created to worship God. When worship deviates from God , our sins will express themselves in disobedience to Him as well. In one sense our sin is expressed as a worship disorder.
Therein lay the duplicity that Jeremiah denounced. The nation was marked by violation of every part of the Mosaic Law. Thievery, murder, adultery, lying, and idolatry were outward manifestations of the inner worship of the wrong gods. And they had the bold gall to still attend temple gatherings in some tacit fashion. God told them He was not interested in those terms of attention from them. This was not what He taught them, neither was it what He wanted. He wanted hearts that sought Him, worshiped Him, loved Him, obeyed what scripture taught, and were changed in visible action toward others around them. It was in the doing of belief in God that worship really lived. And that is still the way worship works.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Thus says the LORD: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'"
God knew that Israel had ancient revelation that showed them the way to please Him. There was an ancient path known as the Law. Moses had been used by God to record it faithfully for the nation. The people could go to it to find the way of righteous living that God desired.
This was the good way. It was the pattern for living clearly given to them. It required the commitment to walk according to its directives. But it was a clear and easily found map for navigating life. And even as Jeremiah pronounced impending judgment from God, there was a call to return to the path revealed in scripture. It was the only way God's people would find rest.
The tragedy is in their continuous disobedience. God's people refused to walk in the path of obedience to the Law. They chose their own paths, abandoning the ancient, good way God had graciously given them. And so rest was impossible. Their souls were troubled by their lack of obedience. They toiled down tireless roads that they thought would lead to happiness.
My call is also to an ancient path. It is the good way mapped out in Christian discipleship. It involves daily getting my bearings from the Bible. I have no problem saying that ancient wisdom is what I need to navigate a complex and confusing culture. God guides me through His Word. And really, I find rest, joy, and freedom here in God's Word! For that wisdom I am truly and profoundly grateful.
Monday, December 17, 2012
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?
The major indictment that God leveled at Judah and Israel was that false religion was the love of their culture. They purposed to chase after every novel form of idolatry practiced by the nations around them, including child sacrifice. They passionately disobeyed the LORD by doing this. And no guilt or sorrow over sin came when they were confronted.
In the remnants of God's worship, not a shred of right practice or doctrine could really be found. Those claiming to prophesy on the behalf of Yahweh did so falsely, giving soothing messages that reinforced the desire for idolatry. The priests abandoned the law and did not listen to The Lord, choosing instead to make their own dictates the standards for teaching and practice in the temple. The worship of The Lord was corrupt from the top down.
The net effect was that the people had grown to love this arrangement. They could be just like other nations AND yet have a vague identity as Jews. But this was the opposite of God's plan for Israel which was to be a light to the gentiles and an attraction that drew the nations to God. The fire had gone out of the lamp. The nation had lost its distinct message to point the world to the true God.
The question at the end of this indictment is haunting! Who would Israel be able to turn to when their destruction came? Their false idols would not save them. God had decreed their judgment. Their own ability to do what they wanted would be ripped from them by occupying armies. At that moment of total loss only God could be seen. Their self-determined sin would fail them.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
"For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are 'wise'-in doing evil! But how to do good they know not."
Of course doing evil is not a wise course of action. God is using sarcasm to express His frustration with the moral stupidity of His people. They have been instructed. They had the Law. They had His prophets calling them back to understanding and obedience. But they foolishly disobeyed and went their own way.
There is a wisdom that is greater than any truth that this world can teach us. It is greater than mathematics or science. It is greater than history, the arts, or any compelling story from human literature. It contains deeper treasures than any school of education, museum, or human philosophy think tank could ever teach us. It is the wisdom that comes from the mind of God. And God's thoughts are recorded in the Bible. It is why it is a precious book.
God's wisdom is often mocked today. It is mocked by the scientific naturalist who makes sheer empiricism a god. It is mocked by the atheist who must worship something anyway... either his own intellect or the universe. It is mocked by the psychologist who reduces all human emotion and behavior to chemicals and evolutionary predispositions.
I have seen firsthand how rejection of God's wisdom creates moronic morality... even among Christians. The damage compounds in individuals, in society, in families, and in our institutions. It is frightful to know that vast groups of people who are being deceived by the God-mocking systems around today have no moral understanding yet are still responsible for their evil. This is why patiently living and passionately conversing about a Christian, biblical worldview are both major calls for all believers today.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.
This is what acknowledgement of sin looks like. This poetic position of humble repentance was meant to bring Israel and Judah to a point of repentance. It was written down during the reign of Josiah in Judah. He was one of the reform-minded good kings. And Jeremiah's message recounts the countless despicable ways in which both kingdoms of Israel and Judah had turned from The Lord. At the end of this repentance is the response of agreement.
At its heart repentance is a way in which we agree with God about our sin. That acceptance of the wrong in our sin must lead to the recognition that our attitude toward sin must change. In this case, it was a willingness to accept the consequences of guilt, shame, and dishonor. That led to humble confession of sin.
There is also an action in repentance. It turns from sin to new works of right living. It is the call that changes our expression of who and what we worship. When we agree with God, we want to please Him. And real repentance turns to that choice in a visible fashion.
Repentance cannot be just saying "I'm sorry". It must move us to actions that show the serious new commitment to live as God wants. It is about that change that God brings to us. It is obeying the voice of God.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
God's message through the prophet is that Israel has sinned deliberately against God in two ways. The first is the sin of rejection. God had provided sustaining relationship: fountains of living water. This was a vivid and lively metaphor for those who lived in a semi-arid Mediterranean climate of Israel. But they had rejected a sustaining obedience to The Lord.
Instead, a second sin marked their culture. They committed the sin of replacement: idolatry. They were left with broken cisterns they had hewn for themselves out of dry rock. Cisterns do not hold fountains of running water. They hold rain water that sits and stagnates over time. Again the metaphor is dramatic. Israel rejected the vibrant love of God and replaced it with a nasty malignancy that failed to sustain them. Idolatry never satisfies the heart.
All of Jeremiah 2 is a description of the apostate wanderings of an idolatrous people. It shows us what happens to a society that rejects God and attempts replacement. In the end its own desperation takes over as the leading edge of God's judgment against these two sins. These warnings are instructive because humans have not changed. If I do not trust God, I will make an object of faith for myself and it will fail me. That is the tragedy of worshiping anything other than God alone.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth."
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD."
With a call and an encouragement, any objections Jeremiah had to serving as God's prophet were silenced. God was bigger than the fears of a reluctant young man. Everything that God told Jeremiah in calling him God confirmed in Jeremiah by using him. But it clearly would be God Who would do it. Jeremiah himself was barely out of boyhood and filled with self-conscious fears. In this way a timid youth would prophesy to a wayward nation so that God would get all the attention.
When God wants to use you, never put up your own analysis of yourself as an objection. The reality is that God knows you better than you know yourself! He knew you before you even had an awareness of your own capabilities. God let Jeremiah know this by reminding him that God had already appointed him to the prophetic task before he was even born. God knew what He was getting with Jeremiah before the prophet was even conceived! (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
God always knows you better than you know yourself and well before you think you know yourself. That is why "self-knowledge" is not nearly as vital as "God-knowledge". Honoring God and obeying Him is more important than one dimensional self-analysis. This truth flies in the face of psychologized secularism, but this is a biblical reality that should not be ignored. Thank God that He did not pamper Jeremiah with self-esteem platitudes and motivational posters. Instead, God taught him courageous faith and called him to do what seemed impossible to him.
Friday, December 7, 2012
For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.
This is the last sentence in the book of Esther. Mordecai became a wildly successful political leader because he visibly lived out the outcomes of the Law. God wanted the Jews to take care of their poor and their needy. A major part of the political instruction given in the Old Testament has to do with caring for the very poorest in their society. This exemplified Mordecai's political work among the Jews in Persia. He worked to save them all at their poorest and most helpless. And God blessed his commitments.
The simple reason that Mordecai was loved by the people was that he really cared for them. They were prosperous and ruled well which led to peace and real love for their leaders. God blessed the rich dedication of that one man had to biblical principles.
So this is not so much about politics as it is about character and obedience. Those things came together and marked the actions of Mordecai and Esther. And that turned them to places of influence that changed their situation and reached out to a nation within a nation. Character and obedience in leadership change society.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king's command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.
This was the big twist of the book of Esther. On a day when one man planned to eradicate the Jews across the Persian empire, the tables turned. Instead, the anti-Semitic conspirators had all gone public in preparation for their deed. And now, with royal backing, the Jews were encouraged to hunt them all down. The anti-Jew factions were rounded up and executed. This is the deepest irony in the story line.
God brought deliverance to His people through one man's faithful service to the throne. Mordecai's administrative gifts prospered Persian more than Haman's selfish hate ever did. The Lord brought assistance through a beautiful wife's patient faith. Esther dared to interrupt court protocol to stop the conspiracy. God had circumstantially placed her at the king's side to do that at just the right time.
It should be noted that God changed the heart of a pagan king who at first agreed to Jewish eradication, and then turned to perform their salvation. And he placed the Persian army at the disposal of the Jews to execute their enemies so that this sort of thing would not happen again. Justice was served. Using human means, The Lord brought about the best possible ending.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.
Things may seem dark
may follow you
but God can bring the light
Life may be sad
filled with the pain
that sorrow brings
but God transforms it all to gladness
Circumstances are serious
trouble fills your days
you wander in unhappy haze
but God will bring the joy
You go unnoticed
faithfully believing and trusting God
even though no difference comes
but then God faithfully honors
Light and gladness
joy and honor
come to you
because God works in you
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, "What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled."
Esther's slow and sure courage is rewarded. Her faith has carried her through the tough times. She has won the favor of her husband, the king. And now she may make her bold request with certainty that it shall be granted.
Esther's beauty may have won the king's eyes, but her gracious attendance at the feast had won his heart. He was more than pleased with her as his queen. And he wanted to know more of what was on her heart. He asked for her to make her request and he let her know he was predisposed to give her that request with little thought as to the cost of it. This was the moment that she and Mordecai had prayed for.
Esther's only request was to ask for the life of the Jews to be spared. There was still some risk in identifying herself as a Jewess, but at this point it was not as important as the opportunity. And the king continues to support her request. When she explains to the king that ultimately it is Haman who is behind the threat to her life, the king storms out of her quarters to the adjacent palace gardens.
At this point Haman falls down before Esther to beg for his life. When the king returns a few moments later, he finds Haman hanging on to the queen and in wrath orders the execution of the man behind the plot. Haman is taken away and hanged on the gallows he built in his own backyard for the death of Mordecai. The end of evil is beginning to work out in God's purpose.
Monday, December 3, 2012
So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor."
This strange twist of irony halfway through the Book of Esther lets us know that all is well. God shows us His hand before it is played. And this peek into sovereign irony was ultimately salvation for the Jews.
It all started with a king's insomnia. Since he could not sleep, Ahaseurus calls for the royal chronicles to be read to him. Maybe it was a way to get some productivity out of his sleepless hours. Maybe he hoped the dry facts would make him drowsy. Either way, the interruption and the king's response to what he finds out with it, were used by God to further the plot of the sovereign storyline. A sleepless night was a moment for God to work.
What came from this was a big response to a small footnote in events. Mordecai had been unrewarded in his discovery of a conspiracy to overthrow the king. And now Ahaseurus is bent on rewarding Mordecai. The only royal official in the courtyard is Haman. The king asks Haman for a fitting reward to honor one who served the throne. Self-obsessed Haman assumes it his own reward and concocts this scenario.
And then the irony falls with sweet laughter. Prejudiced, hate-filled Haman is forced to lead his object of hate, Mordecai, around the capital city on horseback, proclaiming royal honor that was bestowed on... a Jew. From this point on in the story God is clearly in control of events. He will use the minds of His enemies against them. Haman will be humiliated by the "honor" he proposed for himself. He will soon die in the way he dreamed of Mordecai's demise. God is bigger than human thinking.